The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For
by Alison Bechdel
First, for completists, the numbers: according to Bechdel, this hefty collection includes 390 of “the extant 527 episodes,” including 69 strips previously uncollected—everything essential from the Dykes oeuvre, she says. It’s an exhilarating time capsule of comic wisdom, covering a quarter century of queer politics and passions, from early countercultural rites to contemporary middle-age wrinkles—the community’s quintessential lesbian soap opera (with gay boy cameos). Bechdel’s “Cartoonist’s Introduction”—in graphic form, of course—notes, to her dismay: “Good God. I forgot to get a job! I’ve been drawing this comic strip for my entire adult life!” Even the index ending the collection is witty: see “Paranoid Patriarchal Death Culture, page 3,” and “Sniveling collaborationists, page 128.” It’s hard to imagine there isn’t a sentient homosexual with an activist or literary bone in their body who is not already familiar with Bechdel’s rich work; a likelier audience for this career-spanning compendium are fans-come-lately turned on to Bechdel by last year’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomi_, a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.
And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks
by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs
So how is it that a first novel by Beat luminaries Burroughs and Kerouac has languished, unpublished, for more than 60 years? Well, they were undistinguished unknowns back in 1945,when they collaborated on this “noir” novel by writing alternate chapters, dismissed in later years by Burroughs as “not very distinguished work.” Then, when every scribble from the prominent Beats was making its way into print, Burroughs’ literary executor, James Grauerholz, decided not to release the manuscript for publication until after the death of Lucien Carr—whose 1944 murder, as a teenager, of an unwanted male suitor was the catalyst for the novel. As potboiler mysteries go, it doesn’t generate much heat. But as a moody exposition of queer Manhattan’s languid and louche demimonde, it’s naughtily sexual and emotionally grimy, written in a prose style that is deadpan-dry and larded with hardboiled atmosphere. This oddly titled novel (in one telling, the title was lifted from a radio news report about a circus fire) is an engaging literary and historical curio, a must-read at least for Beat buffs.
Out of the Pocket
by Bill Konigsberg
Not long ago, gay memoirs were all the rage. This year, it’s all about young adult coming-out fiction—and this is among the pick of 2008’s large litter. When star high school quarterback Bobby Framingham is inadvertently outed by a close friend, the reaction of his teammates ranges from nervously supportive to mean-spiritedly vicious; his coach insists he simply can’t be gay—real men aren’t queers; and the unassuming teen unwillingly becomes the public face of gay jocks everywhere. To complicate matters, he’s falling in love with another boy, his father has cancer, and his team’s march to the championship is jeopardized by the turmoil. Debut novelist Konigsberg depicts Bobby’s soul-searching with penetrating honesty; the author also brings a hard-hitting authenticity to scenes of on-field action—no surprise, given that he’s an award-winning sports writer for the Associated Press, and knows his jock stuff. That realism makes this the perfect novel for adolescent athletes with a queer gene, augmenting its worth as an addition to the growing shelf of quality queer-charactered young adult fiction.
His Name is John
by Dorien Grey
Grey, author of a dozen well-plotted and comfortingly formulaic Dick Hardesty mysteries, breaks entertaining new ground with the enigmatic debut of a different series. This time around, his sleuth isn’t, like Hardesty, a professional PI. Elliott Smith is the scion of a wealthy family who, rather than living off his trust funds, works for a living as an architecturally sensitive real estate speculator. The mystery is decidedly different, too: though Smith does in the course of the story figure out who the killer is, his real focus is on identifying who was killed—because he’s being haunted by the unsettled ghost of a man who died beside him in a hospital’s emergency room, and who has lost his identity. Grey’s mysteries are relatively placid affairs, as gay whodunits (or, in this instance, who-it-was-dun-tos) go: there’s very little blood and the man-on-man sex is more romantic than explicit. But Grey’s writing is simultaneously sinewy and seductive, always appealingly lean and emotionally precise—the perfect formula for solid storytelling.
Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about queer literature since the mid-’70s. He can be reached in care of this publication or at BookMarks@qsyndicate.com.